Fort Michilimackinac Reenactment

The Fort Michilimackinac Reenactment recreates events that took place between the French, British and Native tribes of the Straits Area on June 2, 1763. Presented by a Mackinaw City community group.

Admission to the reenactment is free. Access to Colonial Michilimackinac requires the purchase of a regular admission ticket.

Fort Michilimackinac Reenactment

The Fort Michilimackinac Reenactment recreates events that took place between the French, British and Native tribes of the Straits Area on June 2, 1763. Presented by a Mackinaw City community group.

Admission to the reenactment is free. Access to Colonial Michilimackinac requires the purchase of a regular admission ticket.

Timber for Mission Church, April 1830

Looking up at a large white pine tree.

Huge white pine logs provided ample lumber for construction projects

In October 1796, Major Henry Burbeck, the first American commander of Fort Mackinac, estimated the lumber required for repairing and upgrading the fort’s palisades and buildings. Among the planks, boards, pickets, shingles, and scantling, his estimate included 1,420 logs measuring 20 feet long by 15 inches in diameter. If they were white pine (one of the lighter species), this single portion of his order would have weighed over 1,249,000 pounds, or nearly 625 tons.

 To transport such heavy loads, logs were often stacked on stout sleds and skidded over ice, pulled by oxen or horses. For many years, turning logs into boards at the Straits of Mackinac was either done by hand with a pit (whip) saw or at a water-powered sawmill which operated at Mill Creek from 1790-1839. Originally constructed by Robert Campbell, the mill was purchased in 1819 by Mackinac Island businessman Michael Dousman. Both owners filled lumber contracts for Fort Mackinac and other island projects. The following account recalls events that took place nearly two centuries ago, in early 1830.

The Carpenter-Schoolmaster

A pencil black and white sketch of Mission Church on Mackinac Island.

Sketch of Mission Church, 1835

 Martin Heydenburk came to Michigan in 1824 after accepting a teaching position at the Mission School on Mackinac Island. Also an experienced carpenter, his skills as a craftsman were utilized for construction of the Mission House, completed in 1825. During the winter of 1829-1830, Heydenburk was called upon to lead a crew in felling and cutting timber on the mainland for building a Protestant church for the mission. Today, Mission Church is Michigan’s oldest surviving church building.

A large brown building on stilts in winter in Mackinaw City.

Water-powered sawmill reconstruction at Mill Creek

 In early 1830, solid ice didn’t form in the Straits of Mackinac until the end of January. In February or early March, Heydenburk and his crew spent several cold weeks along the Lake Huron shoreline. He later recalled, “in three weeks’ time we had all the timber hewed, fifty pieces flattened to be made into scantling and joist with the whip-saw, and three hundred saw-logs hauled out of the woods to the shore ready to be moved home or to the saw mill when the ice should prove favourable. A few weeks afterward a heavy rain flooded the snow upon the ice and then froze. Michael Dousman had a saw-mill about two miles from our logs and we soon had them there …”

French Trains to Mackinac Island

 Heavy rain proved to be a mixed blessing for the timber project. After it refroze, the flooded lakeshore offered a smooth surface to haul logs to the sawmill. Rainwater also filled the creek and mill pond, providing an ample supply of water power to cut 300 logs into boards. Once the order was completed, word was sent to Mackinac Island and horse-drawn sledges were sent over the ice to pick up lumber from the sawmill.

A black and white photo of large horses pulling a sleigh of firewood on snow.

Horse-drawn sledges were commonly used to haul firewood to Mackinac from nearby Bois Blanc Island

 Heydenburk continued, “On the eleventh day of April, with the thermometer at zero, and the wind blowing strong from the east, all the horses and French trains on the Island started at daylight for the timber; we crossed safely, loaded up and started for home.” A French train was a narrow, deep box sleigh, pulled by one or two horses, which slipped easily over ice and snow. Dogsleds were also used for winter mail and hauling smaller loads to Mackinac Island. Sleighs and sledges were used well into the 20th century for hauling goods such as hay, groceries, and firewood from the mainland or nearby Bois Blanc Island.

 As they trudged along hauling heavy loads of lumber, news reached the teams that rain had degraded the ice, making the journey unsafe. Heydenburk recalled, “when about half way across the straits we were met by messengers and guides who told us that the ice which was two feet thick had become porous and we could not cross the channel. We left our loads on Round Island, then put rope on the necks of the horses and started across the treacherous channel … We all got home safe.” Thankfully, such dangerous spring journeys are now but distant memories at the Straits of Mackinac.

Marchand De Lignery and the Voyageurs

Artifacts recovered during the archaeological dig at Michilimackinac.

French weapon parts recovered at what is now the South Southwest Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac.

 In the years between 1712 and 1720, France was entangled in a long war with the Meskakie Nation in Wisconsin. The area which would later become Michilimackinac became a jumping off point for the troops who were going to go fight in that war. Those forces were made up of a handful of soldiers, French canoe men or voyageurs, and Native Americans led by Louis de La Porte de La Louvigny and Constant Marchand de Lignery. They were to travel separately to the gathering place before heading further west.

A 1749 map of Michilimackinac, when it was under French control by Michel Chartier de Lotbiniere. Courtesy Public Archives of Canada.

 Lignery had arrived at Michilimackinac by 1714 under orders to “persuade the savages of Michilimackinac” and to make war with them against the Fox. Unfortunately, by the spring of 1715 those plans to go to Wisconsin were still muddy. Louvigny had been delayed and food and other supplies were not as well-stocked as the Commanding Officer would have liked. In addition, close to the end of the year, there were grumblings of discontent and four voyageurs had left Michilimackinac without Lignery’s consent. In response Lignery had them arrested as deserters. The men were sent to prison in Montreal to wait for their sentences.

 On January 13, 1716, Jean-Baptiste Adhémar, royal notary, and Pierre Raimbault, the King’s attorney, began interrogating the four voyageurs. In response to “why he left before the said convoy” and if “he had the commandant’s permission” the twenty-eight-year-old Jean Verge dit Desjardins said that “not being one of the coureurs de bois he did not believe he was absolutely obliged.” Desjardins further argued that he contracted “a sickness in prison” from being wrongfully jailed. LeBoeuf answered to the same question that “he thought he did not do anything wrong in leaving secretly” and that he was “returning from fur trading.” Jean Gautier responded “that he did not hear any king’s order on this topic.” Pierre Monjeau added that he was “obligated by his contract” to obey his master and feared “he would lose his wages.”

An ornamental weapons artifact recovered at Colonial Michilimackinac.

A French weapon part recovered at what is now the South Southwest Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac.

 In the end, despite their perceived desertion by Lignery, the men were acquitted. Adhémar and Raimbault let the men go but they were to return to Michilimackinac and “place themselves under the orders of the commandant.” The deserters were volunteers, after all, and were probably more interested in trade than fighting in a war.

 Once Louvigny arrived at Fort Michilimackinac, Lignery was relieved of his command and criticized for his failure. However, the trouble with the voyageurs still continued under Louvigny. Even when Louvigny went on campaign with his forces, the voyageurs abandoned their post on their return and departure of the Fort.

 Despite its rocky beginning, the presence of those early French voyageurs and soldiers became the start of more than 40 years of successful French military occupation at Michilimackinac. The soldiers during that time never ended up fighting in Wisconsin, but instead built the first version of what we now can see as the reconstructed fort and village.

Inside an exhibit at Colonial Michilimackinac showing a canoe and exhibit panels talking about the French presence at the site.

Inside the France at Mackinac exhibit at Colonial Michilimackinac.

 To learn more about the French military at Colonial Michilimackinac and its other great history or to plan your trip, go to mackinacparks.com.

A New Gown at Michilimackinac

A dress, reddish-orange in color, held together with pins as it sits on a mannequin. When you come to Colonial Michilimackinac it is always easy to find staff dressed in historic clothing. This winter, the clothing collection has had a number of new pieces added. Each is carefully researched and recreated to represent the items worn by the colonial residents. One of the larger projects this year has been recreating a woman’s gown.

 18th century women’s dresses were remarkably consistent in the basic style and cut in North America and in Europe. Trimmings and fabrics varied, but the shape of the pattern pieces and the construction were very similar from gown to gown. The basic style consists of an “open robe” which is a dress that is meant to be worn over a separate skirt. The open robe gowns are cleverly constructed and take very little fabric compared to later styles of gowns. The bulk of the cost of a gown was in the fabric. It might only take a day to make a gown, but it might take months or longer to make and transport the fabric.

 Textiles were often re-used and remade into newer styles or new garments altogether. Clothing could be let out, taken in, re-trimmed, patched, cut down, made into a garment for a child, or completely unpicked to start over. Some items, such as ladies’ gowns, were constructed with future alterations in mind. Folds and pleats were used extensively to give the gowns shape and prevent unnecessary cutting into the valuable fabric. Even wealthier households were known to be thrifty with their fabric.

A reddish-orange dress being fitted on a staff member for Mackinac State Historic Parks.

The new gown being fitted for the historic interpreter who will wear it.

 There were many fabric options for ladies’ gowns. Silk has a lustrous finish and soft texture which made it a choice fabric. By the 1770s silk was worn by all people, not just the wealthy. Even the very poor were able to afford a silk neckerchief or a silk ribbon for their cap. In 1778 John Askin wrote to his trading partners in Detroit asking for a gift for his daughter: “I owe Kitty her wedding Gown, as there was nothing here fit for it. Please have one made for her in the French fashion of a light blue sattin”. Miss Askin’s bespoke silk gown would have been a special piece, but it wouldn’t have been that unusual at Michilimackinac where many people liked to dress well.

A staff member wearing a reddish-orange gown with a white apron standing in front of a black curtain.

The new gown being worn in public, as Devan, one of our historic interpreters presents an education outreach program.

 The most reliable and practical fabric to make a gown from was, and still is, wool. Wool gowns do not fade in the sun nearly as fast as cotton or linen. We especially love wool for our staff because it does not need to be ironed nearly as much as some of the other types of textiles. So, while our staff may want to wear silk, most of the gowns found in the Michilimackinac closet, including this new one, are made of wool. Lightweight wools are good for all seasons, keeping the wearer warm in the cold and cool in the heat.

 There is still a lot to do, but we are happy to have one project checked off the list. To support our programs and learn more about Michilimackinac’s history visit mackinacparks.com.

An “Unlucky Affair” at Michilimackinac: The Stabbing of Lt. James Hamilton

Three buttons discovered at Colonial Michilimackinac. They have 10s on them as they were for the 10th Regiment that were stationed at Fort Michilimackinac.

Uniform buttons lost by soldiers of the 10th Regiment while stationed at Michilimackinac. These buttons were discovered by archaeologists as part of the ongoing excavation of Michilimackinac, which has continued every summer since 1959.

 In the course of otherwise routine historic research, occasionally a previously unknown and unlooked for piece of information comes to light. Such is the case of the stabbing of Lt. James Hamilton of the 10th Regiment at Michilimackinac in the summer of 1773. This previously unknown (to us at Mackinac, at least) incident came to light while reviewing the voluminous correspondence of Frederick Haldimand, who served as governor of Quebec from 1778 to 1786. Within these pages, now held by the British Museum, is the account of the violent incident at Michilimackinac in 1773. Haldimand received the original letters since he was serving at the temporary commander in chief of British forces in North America at the time.

 On July 31, 1773, Capt. John Vattas, the commanding officer of the detachment of the 10th Regiment at Michilimackinac, took depositions from Lt. James Hamilton and several other soldiers in the immediate aftermath of the incident. Hamilton, assigned to Vattas’ company, accused a Sergeant Dagg of Captain Robert Dalway’s company of stabbing him with a bayonet and attempting to murder him. In his deposition, Hamilton related that he went to Dagg’s house to confront the sergeant’s wife about a chicken she had supposedly stolen from him. After demanding the bird’s return, Hamilton reported that “Mrs. Dagg made use of provoking language to him, which obliged him to give her one or two kicks, and some strokes.” Mrs. Dagg ran outside “screeching,” so Hamilton started to make his way towards his own home. Once outside, Hamilton “saw Serjeant Dagg running up to him with great violence, with a drawn bayonet in his hand.” The lieutenant claimed that Dagg “made a lunge at the center part of his body,” but Hamilton twisted out of the way and into his own back yard, receiving a 2.5 inch cut near the “bottom of his belly” in the process. Hamilton’s memory was less clear about exactly what he said next, but he cried out “damn your blood, will you stab me?” or words to that effect. Dagg apparently “swore by God he would run any gentleman through that would use his wife so.” Convinced that Dagg intended to strike again and kill him, Hamilton ran inside his house. He waited a short time before reporting the incident to Vattas.

The Post Guardhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac. The building is gray, with a wood shingle roof, with pillars in front. The ground in front is gravel and dirt, with a light dusting of snow.

The reconstructed guardhouse at Michilimackinac today. Sergeant Dagg and Corporal Newton may have been sitting on a bench similar to the one near the front door.

 The depositions of the other soldiers added more details about the incident. These men, all likely part of the guard detail, were relaxing in and around the guardhouse when Mrs. Dagg ran outside screaming. Corporal John Newton was sitting on a bench near the guardhouse door with Sergeant Dagg, who was hemming a piece of stamped linen or cotton. Hearing his wife’s scream, Dagg ran towards his house, dropping the fabric on the ground. Cpl. Newton swore he did not see Dagg draw his bayonet, but upon returning to the guardhouse he saw Dagg attempting to put his bayonet back into its scabbard, and the corporal heard him say that “by heavens I have fixed myself.”  John New reported that he was sitting on another bench near the guard room door when he heard a “great noise.” New saw Dagg jump up and run around the corner of Hamilton’s garden, so he followed the sergeant. New watched as both men ran towards the gate leading into Hamilton’s yard. He swore that “Lieut. Hamilton made a smart twist into his own back gate, as if to avoid Sjt. Dagg; and that Sjt. Dagg made a lunge up to the gate after him and turned back immediately with a drawn bayonet in his hand.” New then watched as Dagg attempted to sheath his bayonet while “swearing some desperate oaths,” the exact substance of which he could not remember beyond “saying he had done for himself.”

 While New was the only eyewitness to the actual confrontation outside Hamilton’s yard, several other soldiers testified about what they saw and heard immediately before and after the incident. John Sweet saw Dagg “standing in a very remarkable attitude, with his drawn bayonet in his hand,” and heard him say that “he would run any gentleman through that offered to use his wife in that manner.” Ephraim Staneford was in the guard room and came out to meet Dagg as he returned to the guardhouse, hearing the sergeant say “by heavens he had done it.” Staneford also claimed he heard and saw Dagg laying on the ground crying “murder,” but never observed the sergeant draw or carry his bayonet. Robert Hill, who had been resting on the guard bed, heard Mrs. Dagg’s screams and ran outside, meeting Dagg as he returned to the guardhouse. Hill did not see Dagg’s bayonet drawn, but heard him “swear by God he thought his wife was killed.” Hill also swore that he later saw Lt. Hamilton with “his belly bare,” and watched “blood proceed from a wound that had been lately made into it.”  John Murphy claimed he saw Dagg sitting on the bench sewing before the incident, and noticed the dropped fabric on the ground after the sergeant ran away. Murphy also observed Dagg sheathing his bayonet and swearing that “by God by heaven that he had done for himself.”

 In early October, Lt. Col. Francis Smith, commanding the 10th Regiment from Fort Niagara, passed along the depositions to Haldimand. Smith also provided more information about the case. Dagg had been handcuffed and confined since the incident in July, and Hamilton demanded that he be tried by general court martial. In addition to deposing Hamilton and the witnesses, Vattas also questioned Dagg about “his reasons for so villainous an attempt.” The sergeant claimed that “he was cleaning his bayonet, when the cries of his wife took him from his guard, and that Mr. Hamilton chanced to run upon it.” In other words, the whole thing was an accident, with Hamilton essentially stabbing himself. Given that both Newton and Murphy swore that that had seen Dagg sewing before the incident, as well as noticing the dropped fabric near the bench, Vattas placed little stock in Dagg’s story about cleaning his bayonet, but nonetheless awaited further orders about what to do with the sergeant.

The light infantry and grenadier companies of the 10th Foot took part in the battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. This engraving, printed soon after the battle in 1775, shows the opening engagement on Lexington green. Courtesy Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University.

 Dagg’s situation remained unresolved in March 1774. Writing to Captain Thomas Moncrief, a staff officer, Smith noted that he had written to Vattas “in a private way, and wish Mr. Hamilton and him may be able to wipe this affair away in as decent a manner as the nature of it will admit of, without a public hearing.”  Although Hamilton had demanded a general court marital for Dagg, Smith hoped that “perhaps length of time and other circumstances may lead him to alter his opinion.” If not, Smith would be ”under the disagreeable necessity of troubling the general [Haldimand] further about this unlucky affair.” Why Smith hoped to avoid a court martial remains unclear. A general court martial required 13 officers to sit in judgement, a potentially difficult undertaking with garrison spread out across British Canada. The necessity of transporting witnesses to testify posed similar issues. The nature of the incident, in which Hamilton openly admitted to kicking and beating Mrs. Dagg, may have also prompted Smith to suggest that Dagg not be brought to trial.

 Unfortunately, the outcome of Dagg’s case remains unclear at this time. Additional references to the assault in Haldimand’s correspondence have not yet come to light, and Haldimand relinquished his role as commander in chief when General Thomas Gage returned from England later in 1774. Future research may shed more light on this “unlucky affair,” but in the meantime, the depositions from July 1773 remain the only hints of what happened between Sergeant Dagg and Lieutenant Hamilton. Transcripts of the original documents are available online courtesy of the Library and Archives of Canada. The depositions begin on page 150 of Volume B-18, General Orders and Letters relating to the Garrison of Niagara, Add. Mss. 21678, with the additional letters from Smith on pages 160 and 166. Take a look at these fascinating historical documents and see if you can figure out what happened over 250 years ago at Michilimackinac!

A brown-looking bowl that was used as a milk pan. This dates to the 1700s.

Moving Day

Most of us have had the experience of moving from one place to another, deciding what to take and what to discard, packing everything, transporting it, unpacking, and rearranging our belongings in a new setting. In the summer of 1781, the residents of the Southeast Rowhouse at Michilimackinac had that same experience as the garrison and community relocated to Mackinac Island.

 Over the past ten summers archaeologists have been excavating a cellar in the southeast corner of House E of the Southeast Rowhouse as part of the ongoing excavation of the house. It appears that the cellar was filled with objects discarded during the move. These artifacts, especially the ceramics, give us glimpses into daily life in the household.

 We do not know who lived in the house in 1781. The last documented occupant was an “English trader” noted on a 1765 map drawn by Lt. Perkins Magra. Preliminary analysis of material excavated thus far indicates the house was occupied by a wealthy English merchant and his household throughout the British era at the fort.

An off-white plate, dating to the 1700s, that has been reassembled.

Creamware plate reassembled

 One line of evidence used to reach this conclusion is the quality and variety of ceramics found in the house, cellar and yard. The most common ceramic type found in the house is creamware. Creamware was developed in the early 1760s by Josiah Wedgwood when he succeeded in creating earthenware vessels as thin as Chinese porcelain. This plate (left) is the most complete creamware vessel found in the house. The way the sherds were piled when they were found indicates the plate was broken elsewhere and thrown into the cellar.

A Chinese porcelain tea saucer, white with a blue image of trees and plants on it. It dates to the 1700s and has been broken and reassembled, though some pieces no longer exist.

Chinese export porcelain reassembled

 We have also found a nearly intact Chinese export porcelain saucer in the cellar (right). This would have been used for serving tea, an important social ritual for 18th century British people. Expensive tea sets were used to display one’s wealth.

A brown-looking bowl that was used as a milk pan. This dates to the 1700s.

French Canadian terrine

 On the other end of the spectrum, strictly utilitarian wares have been found as well. A French Canadian terrine, or dairy pan (left), is the most intact example. Fresh milk was poured into the terrine and left to sit until the cream rose to the top. Although not intended for display, the terrine demonstrates wealth because it indicates the presence of a dairy animal.

Two white tin-glazed earthenware ointment pots, white. They date to the 1770s and have been broken and reassembled.

Tin-glazed earthenware ointment pots

Over the past few seasons, we have pieced together two plain white tin-glazed earthenware ointment pots (right). These most likely held medicinal salves.

An earthenware bowl, tan in color, with a flared lip.

Earthenware flared cup

 No archaeology project is complete without a mystery or two. We have not yet been able to determine the exact purpose of this flared cup (left). We have only found one piece of a red-edged, white tin-glazed earthenware dish (bottom right). Although this style of ceramic was produced throughout the 18th century, it was most common in the 1730s and ‘40s. Is it a remnant left behind by earlier residents of the house? A family dish brought when moving to Michilimackinac? A cheap old dish bought expressly for a difficult journey to the frontier of the British Empire? We may never know the answer, but it is interesting to ponder these questions.

A portion of a white dish, dating to the 1700s, with a red rim.

Red-edged tin-glazed earthenware dish

 During the 2024 season, programming at Colonial Michilimackinac will highlight the events of 1781 and the relocation to the island. Colonial Michilimackinac opens for the season May 8, 2024. The archaeological excavation will take place daily June 1 – August 17, weather permitting. 

A color painting in a gold frame of Thomas Hunt, who was a commander at Fort Mackinac.

2023 Mackinac State Historic Parks Collections Acquisitions

In 2023, the collections committee accessioned 643 objects into the Mackinac Island State Park Commission collection and archives. In addition to 83 purchases, 560 items were donated to the collection. The summer collections internship program saw the hiring of Kaitlyn Cary from Central Michigan University and Sara Handerhan from Cornell University. They assisted Curator of Collections Brian Jaeschke with the inventory of The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, several historic downtown Mackinac Island buildings and General Storage inside the Heritage Center.

A color portrait of Colonel Arent DePeyster. He is wearing a dress military uniform of the British military. The portrait is in an oval gold frame.

Colonel Arent DePeyster

A color portrait of Rebecca DePeyster, who is wearing a formal dress and hat, in an oval gold frame

Rebecca Blair DePeyster

 In the fall of 2022, Mackinac State Historic Parks was able to acquire two rare portraits of Lieutenant Colonel Arent DePeyster and his wife Rebecca. DePeyster was commandant of the King’s 8th Regiment of Foot at Fort Michilimackinac from 1774-1779. Francis Alleyne painted the images around 1790. The portraits were discovered in a London home and put up for auction. Money from the Jahn Collections Fund was used to purchase and conserve the portraits and their frames. They are currently on display in the Mackinac Art Museum.

A color painting in a gold frame of Thomas Hunt, who was a commander at Fort Mackinac.

Donated portrait of Colonel Thomas Hunt

 The commission received a donation of a framed portrait from a descendant of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Hunt. Hunt was commander of the 1st Infantry at Fort Mackinac from 1802 – 1804. During this time, Fort Mackinac became the sixth largest U.S. military post with 120 soldiers. Hunt had a distinguished military career starting in 1775 at Lexington-Concord. He served in several battles including Bunker Hill and Yorktown where he was wounded. After the war, he was a major in the 2nd Sub Legion and served during Wayne’s Indian Campaign of 1794, fighting at Fallen Timbers. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1802. The portrait was painted on tin circa 1808 and the artist is currently unknown. The painting is undergoing conservation treatment and will be placed on display in the near future.

Two photograph albums

Two of the donated photo albums

 Over the years, Mackinac State Historic Parks has purchased or had donated photograph albums containing snapshots taken by visitors to the straits region. This year the commission accessioned three albums containing several black and white images of Mackinac Island, Mackinaw City and other local attractions. Besides scenes such as Arch Rock, Fort Mackinac and Grand Hotel, the albums contain perspectives that commercial photographers would not normally shoot providing important historical information. Another aspect is images of  everyday people enjoying the sites much like visitors continue to today.

A collection of brochures, photos, and other items related to MRA and the Mackinac College

Donated items from the MRA and Mackinac College.

 Besides Grand Hotel, Mission Point Resort is another Mackinac Island icon. Many of the resort buildings were originally constructed for the group Moral Re-Armament which was an international moral and spiritual movement that started before World War II. In 1942, the group began holding conferences on Mackinac Island and by the mid-1950s had purchased the property known as Cedar Point on the east end of the island. They began constructing buildings using workers from around the world. One of those workers donated several photographs, slides, blueprints and other material related to the construction. In addition, various objects from Mackinac College, which operated at Mission Point from 1966 – 1970, were donated.

 This is only a small sample of the type of objects Mackinac State Historic Parks collects during any given year.  We are always looking for donations and items to purchase which will help the commission to continue its mission of educating the public about the history of the region.

Mackinac State Historic Parks
2023 Accession Gift Donors

Amy Sacka
Large color photograph of Mackinac Bridge in wintertime by Artist-in-Residence
Raymond Gaynor
Framed black and white photograph of sailboats in Mackinac Island harbor by Artist-in-Residence
Becki Barnwell
Black and white portrait photograph of Samuel Bayard and Martha Poole
Copies of Mackinac Islander, The Island News and Mackinac Island News newspapers
James Newton
Souvenir letter wallet and change purse from Mackinac Island
Jeri Gustafsson
Black and white photographs of Fort Michilimackinac, Fort Mackinac and Mackinac Bridge
Joan Vannorman
Black and white photographs of Mackinac Island, Fort Mackinac, Niagara Falls and Parry Sound, Ontario
Patricia Jahn
Woven flax cloth night shirt
Joan Slater
Office paper spike and papers from John Doud store on Mackinac Island
John Polacsek
Georgian Bay Line travel brochures for S.S. South & North American
David Callaghan
New Testament Bible of Jacob Wendell and Old and New Mackinac by Rev J.A. Van Fleet
Kathy Verhagen
Color and black & white postcards from the Straits of Mackinac region
Michael McGarr
Metal artwork of Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse entitled Midnight Light
Kathy Ames
Black and white photographs of the Tootle family, sailboats and Gardiner photographic prints
David Doss
Michigan State Highway Ferry schedule for Fall and Early Winter 1944
Cheboygan History Center
Color postcards of Mackinac Island and black and white photographs of a truck being pulled by horses on Mackinac Island
Dustin Hunt
Pencil sketch entitled Sue by Artist-in-Residence
Kateri Kaminski
Cross, pendants, brooch and earrings made in silver by Artist-in-Residence
Jeri Baron Feltner
Nikonos III underwater camera used to photograph shipwrecks in the Straits of Mackinac
High pressure scuba tank used by Charles Feltner for diving on Great Lakes shipwrecks
Sid Browne
Wooden walking stick crafted by Donald Andress
Phil Porter
Mackinac State Historic Parks employee coffee mug from 1994
Jean Gumpper
Framed woodcut print by Artist-in-Residence
James Swanson
Oil on linen of Round Island Lighthouse and seagulls by Artist in Residence
Marilyn Bachelor
Framed painting by Robert E. Wood entitled From Mackinac Island
Dorothy and Dan Elliott
Framed oil on tin painting of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Hunt
Anonymous
Real color postcard of Fort Michilimackinac land gate
Harold Kriesche
Clear glass ashtray with letter “L” engraved by Frank Kriesche
Dan Friedhoff
Fire axes recovered from the SS Cedarville shipwreck
Brian Scott Jaeschke
Copy of A Lake Tour to Picturesque Mackinac
Debra Orr
Photographs of Christopher Reeve, Mary’s Pantry, stockade spike, ferry pass, movie ticket and Truscott documents
Douglas McGregor
Moral Re-Armament and Mackinac College photographs, slides, booklets, blueprints, newsletters, records, postcards, Mackinac College letterman patch and stationery
Kyle Bagnall
Three color panoramic postcards of Mackinac Island

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Walk at Historic Mill Creek

Wear your muck boots and join naturalist Kyle Bagnall on a guided walk at Historic Mill Creek. Meet in the parking lot where we’ll begin a leisurely stroll of about 2 miles along the trails, looking for signs of an early spring. Waterproof boots are recommended as we’ll likely experience wet trails and some uneven terrain. Admission by donation.

The Mystery of the Five Michilimackinac Soldiers

Ongoing historical research and archaeological excavations form the backbone of Mackinac State Historic Parks’ interpretive programs and exhibits. This summer, programs at Colonial Michilimackinac will focus on the year 1781 and the fort community at that time. While researching the experience of British soldiers at the fort, we came across a historical mystery! Two hundred and forty-three years ago, in March 1781, five soldiers from Michilimackinac switched sides from the British to join the “rebel,” or, as we would call them today, American, forces. Why and how did this happen?  

These two 1778 sketches from Philip James de Loutherbourg show the variations of a British grenadier’s uniform. The grenadiers who followed Lieutenant Governor Hamilton into battle would have been dressed similarly. Anne S.K, Brown Military Collection, Brown University Library.

 To start, we need to meet the soldiers at Michilimackinac. Different groups of British soldiers occupied the fort between 1763 and 1781, when the fort was moved to Mackinac Island. During the years of the American Revolution, the soldiers living and working at Michilimackinac were members of the 8th Regiment of Foot. There were only 70-80 British soldiers from this group at Michilimackinac. The rest of their brethren were spread throughout Fort Niagara, Detroit, and smaller posts in the Great Lakes area. Different types of soldiers from the 8th Regiment were stationed at Michilimackinac. Half of the garrison were regular soldiers who were part of the General’s company, a battalion company. The other half of the garrison were grenadiers, who were supposed to be the fittest, most experienced soldiers and belonged to their own company. In theory, Michilimackinac was the only place where grenadiers from the 8th Regiment were stationed. However, historians have uncovered their presence at other Great Lakes posts. The grenadiers are the key to this mystery.  

Major DePeyster’s military return from March 1781. Look closely at the bottom center to see his notes on the Michilimackinac prisoners of war.

 Historians know where different groups of soldiers within the 8th Regiment were stationed, and even their condition – “present fit for duty,” “sick in quarters,” or even prisoner of war – from records called military returns. Commanding officers of the 8th Regiment, such as Major Arent DePeyster, compiled these documents and sent them to higher officials. It is in one of these documents that we discovered our mystery. In March 1781, DePeyster issued a return that announced the loss of seven 8th Regiment soldiers who were listed as prisoners of war. One soldier had died while prisoner; the other six had switched sides and “inlisted with the Rebels.” Five of the six were from Michilimackinac. This notable detail leads to many questions. Who were these soldiers? How were they captured? Why did they change sides?  

 We can start to unravel this mystery with the help of some background knowledge. In 1778, Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton of Detroit led a group of British, French-Canadian, and Native American forces to modern-day Indiana to confront rebel forces intent on controlling Fort Sackville. The British soldiers in his party were 8th Regiment soldiers from Detroit. After a short battle, Hamilton and his forces were captured by Colonel George Rogers Clark. Some soldiers from the 8th Regiment may have been taken to Virginia for their captivity while others remained as prisoners of war in Indiana; ultimately their full journeys are currently unknown.  

 Though the 8th Regiment soldiers captured with Hamilton came from the garrison at Detroit, his journal mentioned a grenadier within the group. This means it is possible that some soldiers could have come from Michilimackinac, too. The five Michilimackinac prisoners of war could have been five grenadiers taken with the rest of Hamilton’s expedition.  

 And now we reach the big question: why would these British soldiers join with the “rebels” in the war? By 1781, the five Michilimackinac soldiers could have been living as prisoners of war for almost two years in unknown conditions. During the American Revolution, prisoners of war on both sides received harsh treatment which could cause poor health or even death in the worst circumstances. Like other prisoners of war, it is possible that the Michilimackinac soldiers made their choice to change allegiances for the sake of self-preservation.  

An interpreter at Colonial Michilimackinac at present dressed as a grenadier.

 There are still many unknown details in this historical mystery. While facts and probability currently favor that the five prisoners of war from Michilimackinac who joined the “rebels” were grenadiers from Hamilton’s campaign, further research may suggest other theories. Interested in learning more about British soldiers stationed on the Great Lakes? Visit Colonial Michilimackinac this season for programs, demonstrations, and exhibits about these historical figures and others who lived and worked at the Straits of Mackinac.